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Local Firefighters, Police Honored by American Legion

Officers, firefighters and paramedics from Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Pacific Palisades are awarded for their service.

Firefighters, Police, FBI agents and their families gathered at the in Pacific Palisades Monday for the annual "Law and Order Night," an awards ceremony that honors those who work tirelessly to keep Southern Californians safe.

The awards are given out to law enforcement and first responders in the 24th district of the American Legion, which includes Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica, Hollywood, Los Feliz and Beverly Hills.

Honorees were given countless commendations, including recognition from the City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California Assemblyman Mike Davis and U.S. Rep. Karen Bass.

<<Be sure to click through the photo gallery and watch video clips for highlights from the event.>>

The following were among the American Legion District 24 Law and Order award winners:

Pacific Palisades Paramedic Firefighter of the Year

Craig Thompson of was awarded the honor during his final year as a Los Angeles firefighter. Thompson has served with the Los Angeles Fire Department for 37 years and has taken on roles such as a dispatcher, hazardous materials specialist and paramedic firefighter, just to name a few.

His last day with the fire department is March 31.

"I'm really proud of him," Thompson's wife, Sophia, told Patch just before the ceremony began. "He's done a good job."

"We're looking forward to spending retirement together," added Thompson.

Los Angeles Police Department Law Officer of the Year

Officer Robert Rand of the Southwest Division Gang Detective Unit was given the honor of Law Officer of the Year. Rand led an investigation after two University of Southern California students were shot at a party near campus. The party had been crashed by local gang members. Rand attained video and photos of the suspects from party-goers and used social media to aid in the investigation.

Santa Monica Police Department Officer of the Year

Officer Lowell Watson was honored as the Santa Monica Police Department Officer of the Year. Watson went to Santa Monica High School, where he was a varsity wrestler. He went on to boot camp in 1999 and served in the Marine Corps. Watson is active in the reserves and was promoted to Gunnery Sergeant. He is a member of the Honor Guard and is a field training officer with the Santa Monica Police Department. Watson has been described by colleagues as "the best in law enforcement."

"They put their lives in my hands [and] I put my life in theirs," said Watson about his colleagues, upon receiving the award.

Watson served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was also stationed overseas in Mozambique when his daughter was just 5 months old.

"She's my biggest motivation," Watson said.

Los Angeles Fire Department Firefighter of the Year

Firefighter Ray Topete has been with the fire department for six years and is currently working at Fire Station 61, which serves the Fairfax District, Park La Brea, Miracle Mile and Hancock Park areas. Topete was honored Monday night not only for his service as a firefighter but because of his dedication to the Spark of Love campaign, a program that gives toys to needy kids during the holidays. Topete has delivered more than 3 million toys during his tenure with the fire department.

Beverly Hills Police Department Officer of the Year

Officer Kurt Haefs has served the department as a tactics instructor, range master, DUI expert, motor officer, motor officer instructor and with the SWAT team. Haefs is responsible for an impactful arrest this past year, when he spotted a burglar who had been plaguing Los Angeles and Beverly Hills.

Haefs is very passionate about raising awareness and funds for families of officers who were killed in the line of duty. He will be cycling from Maryland to Washington, D.C., to raise money for the cause later this year.

Haefs was also recently named Police Officer of the Quarter for Day Watch Patrol by the Beverly Hills Police Department.

"I'm thrilled to be honored … and by true heroes," said Haefs upon receiving his award. "Thank you for all you said."

Los Angeles Police Department Law Officer of the Year: Community Service

Officer Russ Vincent has been with the LAPD for 22 years and is part of the Mounted Platoon. Over the years, he has been tasked with crime suppression, crowd control and search and rescue. However, Vincent was also honored Monday night because of his role in a program called Mini Mounties. The program aims to take kids out of the classroom and off to amusement parks, plays and musicals, hoping to establish a positive relationship between youth and police. Vincent has been instrumental in keeping the program going.

Beverly Hills Fire Department Firefighter of the Year

Firefighter Chuck Ratcliff began as a rookie firefighter at the age of 51, following a career as a general contractor and high school football coach. Ratcliff has worked his way up to his current rank of engineer. Ratcliff served in Vietnam from 1971-1972.

Santa Monica Fire Department Firefighter of the Year

Chief Carl Bjerke presented Captain Matt Norris with the Firefighter of the Year award Monday. Bjerke told the audience that Norris has been with the department for 10 years and has assisted tremendously with urban search and rescue calls.

"He has truly earned every bit of this recognition," Bjerke said as he presented Norris with the award.

Pacific Palisades Firefighter of the Year

Firefighter Guillermo Bringas, known by his colleagues as Bill, was named Firefighter of the Year for Pacific Palisades. Born in Culver City, a graduate of Venice High School and Santa Monica College, Bringas has been a Southern Californian through and through. Bringas joined the fire department in 1987 and moved up the ranks to engineer in about five years. Bringas has been with the LAFD for 25 years and is currently stationed at Fire Station 23 in Pacific Palisades. He is also very active within the Los Angeles Firemen's Relief Association, which assists widows, orphans and disabled firefighters. Bringas has received an LAFD Medal of Merit.

Bringas' wife, mother and in-laws attended the awards ceremony Monday.

"It's always nice having your family around [in] good times and bad," Bringas told Patch before the ceremony. "And them getting a chance to see me get an award is always good."

Los Angeles Fire Department Paramedic of the Year

Presenters joked that just about everyone in the fire department has met paramedic firefighter Monica Escamilla. But it's no joke. Escamilla is in charge of re-certifying firefighters and police officers who go through Emergency Medical Services, or EMS, training. Those presenting the award said many students call Escamilla their favorite teacher and that she "epitomizes what it means to be a paramedic." Upon receiving the award, Escamilla said she makes a point to tell every student they are her favorites as well.

Special Honor for Officer Kevin Cotter and Detective Craig Marquez

Police Officer Kevin Cotter and Detective Craig Marquez were honored Monday for their efforts in a December 2011 shooting in Hollywood. On Dec. 9, 2011, Cotter was working a shift for a movie shoot and Marquez was preparing for scheduled detective work when a call came in about shots fired at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. The suspect, Tyler Brehm, 26, was shooting at people and cars while walking through the street. According to LAPD, when Cotter and Marquez ordered Brehm to drop his weapon, he pointed his gun at officers. The officers shot at Brehm, fatally wounding him.

One man, music executive John Atterberry, died in the hospital after being shot in the jaw by Brehm.

"Its not what we do on a daily basis, it's what we do in the worst of situations," said Cotter upon receiving the honor.

Cotter served in the U.S. Army and worked for 20 years as a construction worker. He joined the LAPD in July 1995. He has worked with the Central Traffic Division, the South Traffic Division and the West Traffic Division during his career.

Marquez was born on the island of Maui, Hawaii, and joined the Marines at age 17. Marquez was first stationed in Panama and then served as a rifleman back in the U.S. Marquez currently works in the Hollywood Detective Division.

Many who presented and accepted awards Monday night spoke about the bravery and service of our officers and firefighters. Many recipients thanked colleagues, mentors and friends. However, one group was thanked time and time again … the families that support our heroes.

Be sure to click through the photo gallery and watch video clips for highlights from the event.

  • For information regarding the Spark of Love campaign, click here.
  • For information regarding the Mini Mounties program, click here.
  • For information regarding the Los Angeles Firemen's Relief Association, click here.
  • For information about the American Legion Pacific Palisades Post 283, .

--Information regarding the Hollywood shootings were compiled by reports by Hollywood Patch.

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